Whenever a student tells me that they are studying the IB programme, I can't help but want to give them a big hug and say, "You've worked hard all these years." In the 2018/19 academic year, I came into contact with hundreds of families inquiring about studying in the UK, and a portion of these parents expressed their desire to enrol their children in schools that offer the IB curriculum. These parents believe that the IB system is currently the most internationally recognised curriculum in the world and that it can cultivate students' comprehensive abilities. Of course, this is indeed an advantage of the IB programme. However, not all students are suitable for the IB curriculum, so how should parents consider and choose?
Let's first understand what the IB programme is. The full name of the IB programme is the International Baccalaureate, which is widely adopted by international schools around the world, with nearly 5,000 certified IB schools worldwide. At the high school level, the IB Diploma Programme (IBDP) consists of six subject groups and three core components.

The six subject groups are:

  1. First Language
  2. Second Language
  3. Individuals and Societies (History, Geography, Economics, Business Management, Psychology, Philosophy, Religion, etc.)
  4. Experimental Sciences (Physics, Chemistry, Biology, Design, Sports and Exercise Science, etc.)
  5. Mathematics (with various levels of difficulty to choose from)
  6. Arts (Music, Dance, Film, Drama, Art and Design, etc.) or an additional subject chosen from Groups 2-4.

The three core components are:

  • Theory of Knowledge (TOK): Focuses on training students in critical thinking. At the end of the course, students are required to write a 1600-word essay and give a presentation, integrating real-life experiences.
  • Extended Essay (EE): This requires students to choose a topic of interest, conduct independent research, and complete a 4000-word essay.
  • Creativity, Activity, and Service (CAS): This requires students to participate in activities related to arts and creativity, physical health and well-being, and community service, aiming to develop a balanced lifestyle and serve the community.
christin hume Hcfwew744z4 unsplash 1

Academically speaking, compared to the traditional A-Level curriculum in the UK, the subjects in the IB programme are actually simpler. However, people often say that the IB programme is difficult because of its comprehensive requirements. Students must be "all-rounders," achieving a certain level in languages, humanities, sciences, and even arts. Additionally, the IB programme has extremely high English language proficiency requirements for students. Even subjects like Mathematics and Physics, in the IB system, are often assessed through essay writing. A student may be able to write an essay on literary analysis in English, but can they write a mathematical essay to the same standard? Therefore, if a student's English language proficiency is inadequate, they may struggle to keep up with the IB programme.

national cancer institute uVnRa6mOLOM unsplash 1

Before deciding whether a child is suitable for the IB programme, parents may consider the following questions: Does the child enjoy critical thinking? Do they excel in only a few specific subjects? Are their language skills strong? As the IB programme emphasises a balance between arts and sciences, students pursuing the IB programme should not be too one-sided in their subject preferences. They cannot say that they only like the humanities and dislike other subjects, as their performance in the other five required subject groups may not be ideal. Additionally, some students may not enjoy rote memorization and constant test-taking but prefer thinking, conducting research, and collaborating with others. In such cases, the IB programme may be well suited for them. The IB programme also emphasises students' language proficiency and communication skills, so students studying the IB programme should have strong English and mother tongue skills.

Among IB students, there is a joke that if you can survive the IB programme, then you are a true top achiever, and there's nothing to fear even when you go to university. Although the IB programme is excellent, it is not suitable for all students. Parents should consider factors such as their child's personality, learning habits, and overall abilities before deciding whether to let them take on this challenge!